We don’t yet know we’re on borrowed time. On the last day of vacation, at Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii’s top-rated Aquarium, shafts of sunlight stripe the huge “open ocean” exhibit. No way to know how personally symbolic this place will become for my husband, Dreamer, and me.
We marvel at the glassy viewing tunnel’s scope: 240 degrees. Hawaiian marine denizens, some of them found nowhere else in the world, thrive in 750,000 gallons of brine.
No facemask, wetsuit, or flippers needed. Bypass oxygen tanks. Inside this acrylic tunnel gasps and exclamations—in several languages—lace the air. The place is packed. Humid. Exciting.
A gaping boy stretches out his arms.
“Fathom,” from the Anglo-Saxon word faetm, means, “to embrace.” The ancients reckoned measurements by using average-sized human body parts. Fingertip to fingertip from a man’s outstretched arms—roughly 6 feet—constituted a fathom.
Fathom, as verb, is another kettle of fish. Who can fathom how this plastic tunnel withstands seawater’s monumental weight? And imagine the upkeep: giant squeegees, vats of Windex, evening workers with rags vamoosing spectator handprints.
Thick curves reflect and exaggerate colors, shapes, light.
We sink onto a side bench in the tunnel.
Wide-eyed, Dreamer and I gaze and gaze.
Sharks surround us.
We breathe in menace
and our reflections morph.
Like funhouse mirrors, proportions dance: Balloon, telescope, skew—massive fish with their spooky, lidless eyes loom, then shrink, appear smaller than we are. A diver lurches alongside the tunnel wall.
This encircling lens
dwarfs the diver who looks
about nine, lugging
his ponderous barrel device
like an old insult. Lancing
sunlight, the rationed sea,
all these motes, in freefall.
Is that an eel, or an air hose?
My camera’s a held breath
as gleaming blacktips
circle the diver.
Turns out visitors can sign up to swim with these sharks—upending my assumption that they’re out for blood.
Huh. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Tomorrow we head home for Dreamer’s scheduled angiogram. The doctor warned us before our trip a stent might be needed. But who worries when portly tuna shaped like blockbuster bombs surge past?
They never blink.
What would it be like to gaze at one’s world—despite being confined—wide-eyed all day, every day?
A stingray undulates up a wall.
“Incoming,” my husband says, “at twelve o’clock.”
We crane our necks, overshadowed by tattered underbelly as another stingray unwrinkles itself above our heads.
At the Center
The Maui Ocean Center comprises three acres of exhibits, each replicating natural ocean ecosystems. Aesthetics holds hands with culture and science. Dedicated staff are conserving and sustaining Hawaii’s marine life. Visitors are offered a rich cultural immersion that fosters respect and wonder.
Sea jellies, octopi, lovable green sea turtles, reef fish and creepy Moray eels—life teems everywhere we look.
The tunnel’s our favorite. A place can envelop as well as imprint itself on the soul, speak more clearly upon homecoming, and become a life metaphor.
Once home again, Dreamer’s angiogram results change everything. Had his doctor known the extremity of arterial blockages, he’d have insisted we cancelled our trip.
Five bypasses later, walled in by the long tunnel of recovery, life passes by. Maui’s seemingly impossible passage amid open ocean—window on the wondrous, and the unnerving—resembles our journey.
But then, occasional riptides and eddies await us all. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Wide-eyed, we stretch out our hands, day after day—fingertip to fingertip—and begin to
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